Purpose & Content


The following video provides a brief introduction to purpose as a communication variable.

Professional communication may have many purposes. Purpose, along with other communication variables, helps you as a communicator to determine content.  Some common professional communication purposes include to inform, which includes providing good and bad news; instruct; request; and persuade. While some communications have a single purpose, others may combine purposes or have a primary and a secondary purpose.


Communications to inform are plentiful and varied; most likely, as a professional, you read, see, hear, and/or create a number of them every day. You might send or receive an email providing information about the date and time of a meeting.  You might read a progress report on the first stage of implementing a change in procedures.  You might create a flyer or brochure intended to let the community know about your organization’s available services.  Communications to inform may be brief and to-the-point, or lengthier, intended to help an audience understand a topic, issue, or procedure more clearly. Note that “most business communications are in fact ‘informative’ messages. An informative message in the workplace is simply the sharing of meaningful information between people in an unbiased and professional manner. Informative messages can be short or long, formal or casual in tone, internal or external in focus, and direct or indirect in structure, depending on the situation.”[1]


Communications to instruct take informative communications one step further, with the goal of enabling your audience to do something, to understand and apply a concept or procedure.  Instructions on how to use a certain system, how to respond to a certain type of client, how to format a document using your organization’s conventions, or when to escalate a situation to the next level of supervision all assume that your audience will use the information once they understand it.  If you’re communicating with the purpose of instruction, it’s critical to build in some feedback mechanism to make sure your audience understands fully so that they can apply concepts or procedures appropriately.


Communications that request any type of information—an update, a client background, a refund—often need to explain why that information is being requested.  If your audience understands the context for the request, they may be more likely to provide the information or outcome that you desire.  Even if you’re in an ultimate power position in an organization (i.e., you can just say “do it” and people jump) a request should be clear, comprehensive, specific, and polite.

Try It

Consider the following request, written in an email from a supervisor to staff.  How might you edit to make this into a more effective request?

Please send your photograph and brief biographical information for our web pages.  Thank you.


something interesting to consider re: Requests

Although it was developed as behavior therapy for people with borderline personality disorders, the the DEAR MAN approach also offers an interesting way to consider potentially complex or uncomfortable requests in a professional context, because it deals with interpersonal effectiveness. (For example, as a supervisor, you feel the need to request an explanation from the person in charge of why your staff members need to re-apply for their current positions.)

The DEAR portion deals with a sequence by which to make the request:

  1. Describe the facts of the situation.
  2. Express your own understanding of and reaction to the situation.
  3. Assert or make your request.
  4. Reinforce the request.

The MAN portion deals with the way in which the request is made:

  • Mindful of the audience and their view.
  • Appear confident.
  • Negotiate so that both parties in the request are satisfied.


Communications to persuade have the goal of getting your audience to take specific action. In order to foster action, persuasion focuses on the audience members themselves, and why and how the action can benefit them.  Persuasion is not the same as selling, and it’s not coercion in any way.  If your purpose is to persuade, you want your audience to understand the value to them in what you’re proposing, and therefore act.

“In order to succeed at persuasion, you must generally give good reasons for the person you are communicating with to do or believe what you intend. That is one reason why it is generally important to identify your purposes for communicating in the workplace before you communicate. If you believe you are only informing, you may fail to provide the good reasons or evidence necessary to persuade, if that is indeed your primary purpose.”[2]

Although the following video’s purpose is to sell a service, the information offered on persuasion is clear and useful.

In addition to considering purpose in terms of inform-instruct-request-persuade, the following video categorizes professional communication purposes in terms of their emphases and results. The author identifies four purposes of professional communication—informing, directing, consulting, and valuing—and places them within a framework of transformational/transactional messages (focused more on people/focused more on tasks) and static/dynamic messages (no response/response), providing another very useful way to think about purpose in professional writing.


Content refers to all the written substance, images, audio files, video files, etc. which comprise a communication. After identifying an audience and a purpose, identify specific information to include in the message. Content may consist of examples, statistics, facts, anecdotes, testimonials, and observations, but no matter the type, the information must be appropriate and interesting for the audience and purpose.

Content is linked inextricably with purpose and audience; purpose and audience determine content.  Ask yourself the following questions about purpose in order to determine content: Why am I writing this?  What do I want the audience to understand?

Triangle. Each corner is labeled audience, purpose, and tone. Each corner has an arrow pointing between each corner and the word Content at the center of the triangle.


[1] Business Communication Skills for Managers, Lumen Learning, https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wmopen-businesscommunicationmgrs/chapter/informative-business-messages/

[2] Chapter 2, The Purposes of Business Communication, pg. 26 https://www.cengage.com/resource_uploads/downloads/0324300816_50288.pdf